Top 3 options for Browns with No. 1 overall draft pick
Two elite pass-rushers and an intriguing QB make up Cleveland's top available options with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Top 3 options for Browns with No. 1 overall draft pick
What seemed inevitable all season is now finally official: the Cleveland Browns are on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick.
The Browns held the No. 2 spot a year ago, a pick they traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a haul of draft choices (the Eagles selected QB Carson Wentz). Because of that trade, the Browns also hold the No. 12 pick in the first round, giving them unique leverage heading into the draft.
The top spot holds a number of options, and a quarterback-needy team like the Browns is sure to scout all of the top signal-callers, but it’s a draft that lacks a clear front-runner at the top. Here’s a look at three strong options for Cleveland at the top of the draft, with the caveat with all three players that we are still early on in our evaluation process.
Myles Garrett, edge defender, Texas A&M
Seemingly destined to be a top-five pick since he stepped onto campus as a true freshman in 2014, Garrett may be the best overall player in the draft from a production and athleticism standpoint. He finished his three-year career with 31 sacks, 35 QB hits and 99 hurries (165 total pressures) on 978 rushes, creating pressure on 16.9 percent of his attempts (NCAA average is 10.0 percent).
Garrett’s ability to affect the quarterback has always been there, and he has the versatility to win a number of ways, as evidenced by his well-distributed win percentage on his 50 pressures that involved beating a blocker this season. He won 20 times to the outside, 20 to the inside, and 10 times with a bull-rush, showing that he has the burst and hands to win outside, an inside counter off of that, and the power to push the pocket when necessary.
The questions for Garrett have always come in the run game, where his overall work had not been up to No. 1 overall pick standards in his first two seasons, but he made great strides in that department this season. His 87.8 grade against the run ranked third among edge defenders, as Garrett improved his ability to disrupt and take on blocks at the point of attack. With that improvement and his pass-rushing prowess, expect Garrett’s name to be called at the top of the draft. He’s a fit for any scheme, but perfect for a Browns team that features one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL and lacks any consistent threat off the edge.
Jonathan Allen, defensive interior, Alabama
Going from first-round hopeful to top-five hopeful this season, Allen made the most of his most extensive playing time of his career in 2016. He finished the season with 11 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 41 hurries, giving him 31, 26 and 84 on 1,000 career rushes. Allen’s 93.6 pass-rush grade leads all interior defensive linemen with one game to go and he’s complemented it with an 87.2 run-defense grade that ranks 11th.
Allen is a different kind of player than Garrett, as he does most of his work as a rusher from the interior, although he has the versatility to move up and down the defensive line in order to create mismatches. He could play on the outside on early downs while rushing from the interior in nickel and dime packages, but regardless of usage, Allen would provide an upgrade to a Browns defensive front that needs playmakers.
Coming into the year, Allen had top-five overall potential, but he took his game to a new level and stood out as the best player on a loaded Alabama defense and perhaps the best overall player in the nation regardless of position. It may come down to position preference and versatility if the Browns are choosing between Garrett and Allen, and they may be intrigued enough to go with Allen due to his ability to play multiple roles along the defensive front.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
With one showcase opportunity remaining in the national title game against Alabama, Watson has a chance to prove his doubters wrong with a high-level performance against the nation’s top defense. He’s had his ups and downs this season, throwing far too many passes into coverage and getting burned to the tune of 17 interceptions.
So while there have been more mistakes than we’d like to see, the thing that continues to stand out about Watson is his ability to bounce back from that adversity. Rarely do his mistakes compound, and he’s kept great composure during Clemson’s run to back-to-back national title games.
Watson can zip the ball up the seam or drop it in a bucket down the field, he improved his work under pressure this season (adjusted completion percentage of 62.5 percent after sitting at 47.6 percent a year ago), and his overall adjusted completion percentage of 76.0 percent ranks ninth in the nation after ranking seventh in 2015.
While the throw-for-throw production has been there for Watson since his freshman year, and he currently sits at No. 3 overall in our quarterback grades at 90.6, there are some concerns. Prior to the season, we compared Watson’s game to Cam Newton,as he can mix in big-time throws while missing on easier passes, but the place in which the two QBs differ is Newton’s monster stature and huge arm that allow him to make those throws from a congested pocket.
Still, Watson has enough physical ability to succeed in the NFL, and his strong work as a runner is added bonus to his NFL skill set. Given that the rest of the league is not sold on Watson’s ability, the Browns may look to add a defensive playmaker at the top before looking to Watson with their second first-round pick, but if they’re sold on his potential as a franchise quarterback, there’s nothing wrong with taking him No. 1 overall.